Can tourism keep up with technology

Can tourism keep up with technology?

Surprise is unlikely to be anyone’s reaction to the latest trends affecting tourism. But sticking one’s head in the sand may be, particularly in seaside destinations typically a little behind the digital curve.

New reports like BDRC Continental’s Holiday Trends 2014 bring to the fore the pace of technology-driven change in the tourism industry. It wasn’t long ago that social media still seemed optional rather than essential for tourism businesses. Just as we get used to customers controlling the conversation, we now face a new challenge - not just how they choose to interact with businesses, destinations and each other, but also where and when. And the answer is any time, any place, anywhere. Today’s travellers are increasingly multi-device - and latest figures suggest a startling 22% of the UK population now only accesses the internet via a smartphone. The implications of this are potentially alarming - by failing to offer a device-responsive website, tourism businesses risk alienating almost a quarter of the population.

The report highlights a significant rise in the importance of online channels in holiday decision making in 2013. And although social media is still the dominant force in influencing holiday decisions, there has also been a rise in the influence of hotel websites, a trend that reinforces the importance of investing in both search engine optimisation (SEO) and marketing (SEM).

Interestingly, the proportion of respondents who trust the accuracy of online review sites has dropped significantly to 45% in 2014, from 52% in 2013. As these sites seek to monetise their visitor numbers by adding bookings to reviews, accommodation providers could reap the rewards of enabling direct online bookings - particularly if they can offer a best online rate guarantee. The report shows also that peer endorsement is now second only to previous experience of a destination as a decision driver - around a quarter of respondents were prompted to book their destination by recommendations from friends, and the proportion was higher among younger age groups, for whom social networking sites have a stronger influence on decision making.

It’s not just about getting them there in the first place of course. Use of technology during trips is growing, too. The report reveals that, in line with internet use generally, overall smartphone use on holiday has risen from 69% in 2013 to 78% in 2014 – almost 8 in 10. That consumers rarely switch off, even on holiday, means it’s never been easier for businesses and destinations to influence what their visitors do during their stay and when they do it, as well as how and when they book.

Success in tourism will always be about the human touch, but trends like these mean it’s also about embracing the possibilities of technology - a fusion of the two to offer visitors the best possible experience throughout the journey.

By Alex Moss